Reading Recommendations

Reading Recommendations

March 2021

Essential Books

Instagram: Visual Social Media Cultures

By Tama Leaver, Tim Highfield, and Crystal Abidin

For anyone who studies something on or related to Instagram, this book should act as the cornerstone of any such scholarly work. Thus, it is not surprising that this book is on this list. It should actually perhaps appear two times on this list, just to underline its importance.

This book also has it’s own twitter account, updating regularily with news related to Instagram. Follow it here: @polityinstabook.

The authors are also active on twitter. Follow them at @tamaleaver, @timhighfield, and @wishcrys

Digital Life on Social Media

By Elisa Serafinelli

Few have studied the way people use social media, and specifically Instagram, as much as Serafinelli. This book is important because it provides a way in to understanding the platform vernacular of Instagram, from photosharing and visual social relationships to privacy, identity and influencers.
Follow the author on twitter here: @eliserafinelli

The Social Photo

By Nathan Jurgenson

To say it bluntly, any attempt at doing research on social media and cultural expressions found on social media should only happen after reading this book. To communicate with images, as we to such a large extent do today is a cultural practice; is a way of seeing, speaking and learning. On social media it is not about sharing objects, but sharing experiences.  While the focus is on how photography, especially, has changed and how it in turn changes us, the argument in this book can be extended onto every cultural expression and artifact on social media without much effort.

Follow the author on twitter here: @nathanjurgenson

Digital Media Ecologies

By Sy Taffel

The way to try and understand the relationship between literature and society has for many years been by way of the sociology of literature. However, the posthumanist media ecological thinking making its way through the contemporary humanities gives a fresh perspective on how to understand the coming about of phenomena. This book not only gives a good introduction to the concept, but also shows different approaches to applying this theoretical framework.

Follow the author on twitter here: @sytaffel

Doing Digital Methods

By Richard Rogers

What is digital also exists as readily formatted data on the web, data which can be studied through the methodology of digital methods. This book is an excellent introduction to how to think about such data, how to study something using these data and the limitations and possibilities they offer.

Follow the author on twitter here: @richardrogers

Niche Articles

New Media & Society, Issue 21 Volume 4

Playing the Visibility Game: How Digital Influencers and Algorithms Negotiate Influence on Instagram 

By Kelley Cotter

Anyone researching popular culture on social media platforms would benefit from reading this article. Managing visibility and gaining popularity on Instagram is not as simple as people might think: the algorithm severely limits what gets shown and to whom. The assumption that social media provides instant access to millions of fans is a myth; in reality, content creators must put in an incredible amount of (mostly free) labour to gain visibility on the app. This article might be helpful for anyone studying the rhetoric of democracy that is often used to discuss social media modes of publishing and content creation because social media is perhaps not as democratic as is often supposed.

Follow the author on twitter here: @kelleyhastwoes

New Literary History, Volume 48, Number 1

Amateur Creativity: Contemporary Literature and the Digital Publishing Scene

By Aarthi Vadde 

This essay researches a well-overlooked aspect of literary studies: how digital publishing is changing contemporary literature and gatekeeping practices. Vadde pays close attention to Wattpad, a massive platform and writing community that allows amateurs to publish directly online without the help of a publisher. As screen and print cultures continue to converge, an in-depth examination of how a changing media ecology is facilitating this change is essential. Vadde’s article will be of use to literary scholars who also work with media studies to address twenty-first century literary cultures.

Follow the author on twitter here: @aarthivadde

Information, Communication & Society, Volume 18, Issue 3

#Funeral and Instagram: Death, Social Media, and Platform Vernacular

By Martin Gibbs, James Meese, Michael Arnold, Bjorn Nansen, and Marcus Carter
While the authors focus specifically on the representation of death and funerals on social media, their fundamental ideas can be mobilized to discuss a myriad of other forms of cultural expression. The authors introduce a new concept of “platform vernacular”: affordances built into the software that delimit narrative patterns such as content, modes of expression, the flow of information, and social participation. This concept can be used to discuss just about any recurring theme in social media works, from the participatory, intimate bonds that content creators nurture with their fans to the brevity and visuality of Instapoetry and more.
Two of the authors are on Twitter. Follow them here: @meese_james and @marcusdcarter
Social Media + Society, Volume 1, Issue 1

Platforms Intervene

Tarleton Gillespie

This is a good, short, and accessible starting point for researchers looking for a quick introduction on how to think more critically about the relationship between platforms and art forms. Despite the brevity of the piece, Gillespie introduces a strong, well-advised idea: if you are working on social media phenomena, you must consider the platform. Popular culture on platforms is different from forms on television or movie theatre screens because platforms fundamentally change how these artifacts are being created and enjoyed today through participatory bonds, algorithms, online visibility, the absence of “human” gatekeepers, and more. Gillespie notes that while most researchers study the social dynamics that take place on platforms, they do not address the platform itself.

Follow the author on Twitter here: @TarletonG


From Clooney to Kardashian: Reluctant Celebrity and Social Media 

Pamela Ingleton and Lorraine York

Celebrity studies is a booming field and is incredibly relevant to social media researchers. As content creators’ success is often equated with the size of their audience, understanding the production and consumption of these social media icons is an important part of viewing social media phenomena holistically. Ingleton and York discuss “celebrity reluctance,” a term used to explain how reluctance among celebrities to use social media is a neoliberal affect that also indicates a level of privilege, and ultimately reinforces traditional hierarchies that exist in the world beyond social media. This article will be useful to scholars in celebrity studies considering how traditional celebrities navigate the world of social media, but also, the idea of reluctant celebrity lends itself well to studying the wave of social media–made celebrities.

Follow the authors on Twitter here: @PamelaIngleton and @Lorraine_York

Cotter, Kelley. “Playing the Visibility Game: How Digital Influencers and Algorithms Negotiate Influence on Instagram.” New Media & Society, vol. 21, no. 4, 14 Dec. 2018, pp. 895–913, 10.1177/1461444818815684.

Gibbs, Martin, et al. “#Funeral and Instagram: Death, Social Media, and Platform Vernacular.” Information, Communication & Society, vol. 18, no. 3, Dec. 2014, pp. 255–268, 10.1080/1369118x.2014.987152. Accessed 20 Oct. 2019.

Gillespie, Tarleton. “Platforms Intervene.” Social Media + Society, vol. 1, no. 1, 29 Apr. 2015, p. 205630511558047, 10.1177/2056305115580479.

Ingleton, Pamela, and Lorraine York. “From Clooney to Kardashian: Reluctant Celebrity and Social Media.” Celebrity Studies, vol. 10, no. 3, 18 June 2019, pp. 364–379, 10.1080/19392397.2019.1630152. Accessed 8 Oct. 2019.

Jurgenson, Nathan. Social Photo : On Photography and Social Media. Verso Books, 2019.

Leaver, Tama, et al. Instagram : Visual Social Media Cultures. Cambridge, Uk ; Medford, Ma, Usa, Polity, 2020.

Rogers, Richard. Doing Digital Methods. Thousand Oaks, California, Sage Publications Inc, 2019.

Serafinelli, Elisa. Digital Life on Instagram : New Social Communication of Photography. United Kingdom Emerald Publishing, 2018.

Sy Taffel. Digital Media Ecologies : Entanglements of Content, Code and Hardware. New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 2021.

Vadde, Aarthi. “Amateur Creativity: Contemporary Literature and the Digital Publishing Scene.” New Literary History, vol. 48, no. 1, 2017, pp. 27–51, 10.1353/nlh.2017.0001. Accessed 15 July 2020.